“Hobgoblins” is almost certainly the lowest of the low-budget “Gremlins” knockoffs. The cult-classic status it has now can mostly be attributed to Mystery Science Theater 3000, but I actually thought it was one of the better movies they covered on the show. It is clearly an amateur movie, with scenes going on longer than they should and the low budget making itself known at every opportunity. However, it is pretty far from unwatchable given the circumstances. Considering how cheaply this movie was made, it is hard to hold most of the big issues against it. Even then, there is still plenty to justifiably complain about here.
First off, the monsters themselves look horrible. They are clearly mediocre hand puppets, but that is probably the best they could put together with no money. There are some great hammy moments when the Hobgoblins are attacking or being attacked, but they look so goofy that there is no way to be afraid of them. In “Gremlins”, the gremlins at least looked disturbing and vile, and could be bought as evil creatures. The hobgoblins just aren’t convincing enough or treated with significant gravity by the characters for them to be frightening. Consistently, the hobgoblins fail to put up any kind of fight once they are discovered. The only thing they have going for them in the movie is that they are good at hiding, and can disappear(?) when it is convenient for the plot.
Speaking of which, the plot actually has some promise in this movie. If there had been a better director on board and some money attached, there are the makings for a mediocre movie here. I like the idea of monsters that can manipulate their victims’ perceptions, but the concept is poorly executed here. Something that doesn’t make sense in this movie is why the victims always die at some point in the fantasy. In the beginning of the movie, the first victim appears to die due to tripping(?) while in his fantasy. It is later explained that the victims just sort of mysteriously and coincidentally die while in their fantasies, but there is never any clear connection made as to why the hobgoblins are killing the people (always by proxy). Do the fantasies power them? If so, why kill the people? Are they predators? Then why don’t they eat the victims? Are they just sort of sadistic? Why? In an episode of the show “Supernatural”, the protagonists run into Djinn on a handful of occasions, who induce hallucinations / dream states to lull their victims, during which they are leeched of their blood. They do a much better job in the show of explaining why the monsters are inducing hallucinations (to steal blood), showing how the monsters create the hallucinations (a toxin), and showing how the victims are ultimately killed (exsanguination). Those things are all important for the audience to know, and are all missing from this movie. I think that was a pretty serious error for this movie that shouldn’t be excused as a rookie mistake or a result of the low budget, it was just short-sightedness or laziness on the part of writer/director Rick Sloane.
I’ve already mentioned that there are a handful of scenes that drag on for too long in this movie, but apart from those (Club Scum and the Rake Fight, for instance), I didn’t think the shots were too horrible in general. There was a little bit of creative framing to fit in the hand-puppet monsters at times, but they didn’t exactly have any other options on the table. I do think the director made plenty of errors and failed to make a good movie here, but it did come out more or less watchable. I think the really shallow writing and thin plot were bigger issues (not to mention the budget/monsters), but since the writer was also the director here, all fault goes to Sloane. I am curious as to why there were so many attempts to inject humor into the movie (they all failed), and if that was initially in the script or added in as an audible after the monsters turned out so badly. All of the “funny” moments felt tacked-on / forced, so that would make sense to me. I’m not sure whether that’s worth applauding for trying to make lemonade from lemons, or criticizing for doing so poorly. If the humor was intended that way to start with though, then that is just jarring, crappy writing.
Speaking of crappy writing, the dialogue in this movie is miserable. All of the characters are unlikable and sound like they were written by a 13-year-old, all with juvenile motivations and the collective depth of a kiddie pool. Characters in this movie can be described as stereotypes straight out of “Cabin in the Woods”, which might be status quo for this kind of movie, but it lazy none-the-less. The actors are definitely not good, but turning any of these lines into something passable would be squeezing blood from a stone.
“Hobgoblins” may not be the worst of the MST3k features, but it is definitely bad. I’m tempted to say that it isn’t so bad as to justify a Bottom 100 spot in the IMDb rankings, but I think it cuts pretty close. The crappy monsters, bad dialogue, and generally lazy writing/filmmaking are all worthy of it, but I am tempted to give it the same lenience I would afford a Troma movie, just because it clearly doesn’t take itself seriously. That doesn’t excuse the flaws, but it might give it a reasonable pass as far as Bottom 100 consideration. Given that there are no Troma pictures in the Bottom 100, I’m tempted to think that the IMDb masses would agree. However, the MST3k label is guaranteed to take the rankings for any movie, so I think this one is primarily a victim of that stamp of disapproval.